With tax breaks stimulating international investment into Aqaba, the range of development projects in and around the city is dizzying. In recent years, the entire city centre has been revamped, with new street furniture, public art and extensive replanting of palm trees (after the palm groves that used to line Aqaba’s shore had all sadly been uprooted by previous, less visionary city authorities). New shopping malls have gone up, large numbers of hotels have opened or are due to open and extensive residential suburbs are being built to cater for the city’s ballooning population.
Tala Bay (w talabay.jo), a wedge of luxury apartments, hotels and restaurants around a marina and sandy beach 15km south of Aqaba city centre, is already open. However, the global economic crisis has hit hard: at the time of writing work was stop-start on the Saraya development (w sarayaaqaba.com), taking in villas, apartments, hotels, water parks and beach facilities, and the adjacent Ayla Oasis (w aylaoasis.com), featuring a leisure complex around a large inland lagoon. Meanwhile, work continues on Marsa Zayed (w marsazayed.org), a $12 billion Abu Dhabi-funded ten-year scheme to rebuild an entire chunk of the city centre by moving the industrial port 20km south to the Saudi border, replacing it with skyscrapers and marinas stretching along 2km of what will become prime urban waterfront.
One scheme takes the biscuit: the Red Sea Astrarium (w rubiconholding.com), a $1.5 billion themed entertainment resort, is planned for the mountains above Aqaba, offering luxury hotels, shows, shopping and dining alongside an immersive space-flight entertainment adventure in the headlining Star Trek zone. King Abdullah is known to be a Trekkie, and in 1995 appeared as an extra in the Star Trek: Voyager TV show (searchable on YouTube). All very bold, but the worry is that Aqaba is trying to run before it can walk.